EPA pushes new boundary for PCS growth

Published 11:04 am Thursday, March 26, 2009

By Staff
Suggested boundaryaimed at reducingdamage to wetlands
Staff Writer
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed Tuesday another change in the footprint of a mine expansion at PCS Phosphate in Aurora as the clock ticked on the agency’s window to request an extra review of the site.
The Environmental Protection Agency has less than two weeks to decide if it will ask the Corps of Engineers’ Washington, D.C., office to perform an extra review of PCS Phosphate’s request to mine thousands more acres of wetland.
Corps of Engineers officials in Wilmington were still reviewing the proposed new boundary Wednesday and didn’t yet have a position on it.
The new boundary is aimed at reducing damage to wetlands. It mirrors recent objections made by a coalition of environmental groups in an appeal of a state water permit for the expansion.
Smith said the new EPA-proposed boundary would represent “a significant reduction in potential minable area.”
The proposed boundary change is part of the EPA’s response to a letter sent by the Wilmington office of the Corps of Engineers, said Jim Jiattina, director of water protection for the EPA Atlanta office.
In that letter, the Corps of Engineers outlined how it had addressed EPA objections to proposed environmental safeguards for the mine’s expansion. The letter was a key precursor to the Corps of Engineers making a final decision on the permit, which environmentalists have said would be the largest permitted destruction of wetlands ever in North Carolina.
In addition to the boundary change, the proposal the EPA presented Tuesday included more mitigation measures designed to offset destruction of wetlands.
If the EPA feels its concerns haven’t been addressed fully by the Corps of Engineers, officials could trigger the extra review process to the Corps of Engineers’ Washington, D.C., office. That decision is now being made by the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, who reports directly to EPA Director Lisa Jackson, Jiattina said.
It is likely, but not certain, the new boundary would require an additional environmental impact study, said Tom Walker, a Corps of Engineer official involved with the permitting process. If the EPA’s national office decides to request the second review, the Corps of Engineers would take roughly a month, Walker said.
That means the extra review would probably be quicker than adopting the EPA’s boundary-change proposal.
PCS Phosphate officials have said they hoped to secure all their permits by the end of April, and Beaufort County’s entire Congressional delegation sent a letter earlier this year urging the EPA to decide more quickly.
Jiattina said the agency isn’t out to destroy jobs, but does have a responsibility to consider the matter fully.
He added later: “We are very sensitive to those issues, and at the same time we are trying to do our jobs to protect the resources in that area.”